The 11 Basic Rules of Window & Interior Merchandising

Several days ago, visual merchandising expert DP Miller presented a workshop at the Alexandria SBDC on the 11 Basic Rules of Window & Interior Merchandising.  The speaker stressed that you must know the rules, and the reasons behind them, before you can “break” them.  This is the first of a three-part series on this subject… Read more »

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Several days ago, visual merchandising expert DP Miller presented a workshop at the Alexandria SBDC on the 11 Basic Rules of Window & Interior Merchandising.  The speaker stressed that you must know the rules, and the reasons behind them, before you can “break” them.  This is the first of a three-part series on this subject – upcoming sessions will occur in April and May and will go into more detail of the practical steps to be taken to have impressive displays.  More information about these sessions and registration will be listed on our events page.  A brief summary of the rules follows:

Rules 1 – 3 – The Relationship Rules

  • Rule 1 – Approachability: Avoiding the Wall
  • Rule 2 – Psychological Perspective: Removing Virtual Obstacles
  • Rule 3 – Shopability: Making it Easy

Rules 4 – 11 – Practical Merchandising

  • Rule 4 – Dynamic Presentation: The Waterfall Effect
  • Rule 5 – The Golden Pyramid: Giving and Playing with Height
  • Rule 6 – Repetition: Of Color, Shape, or Item
  • Rule 7 – Graphic Use of Color: To Pop, Contrast, or Playing with Shade
  • Rule 8 – Negative Space: Finding Rest in the Void
  • Rule 9 – An Odd Rule, or the Rule of Odds: Couples can be Boring
  • Rule 10 – The Golden Rule to Understanding Visual Weight:
    • Short to Long
    • Light to Dark
    • Left to Right
  • Rule 11 – One Less Line: Avoiding Visual Noise

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Seamless integration of technology is part and parcel of 2017 market trends

Playing with an interactive light display.

Marketing Trends for 2017 – There is always a flurry of activity from marketing and PR firms at this time of year. The event put on by the Alexandria Small Business Development Center is always well attended, and this year is no different. Maurisa Potts, Fouder & CEO of Spotted MP, talking about 2017 market trends, discussed the increasing importance of interactive and visual content; digital as in media being the unstated but nevertheless operative word. Commenting in Forbes on similar trends, AJ Agrawal listed seventeen trends for 2017, twelve of which were likewise to do with digital content. The impact of technology has of course been growing every year, leading me to wonder if/when it will finally peak. Not, it would appear, anytime soon as almost all of the topics in Pott’s presentation, i.e., Interactive Content, Visual Content, Influencer Marketing, Virtual Reality, Mobile Video, Live Broadcasts, Short Form Content, Mobile First, Personalization, and Native Content, presumed digital content.

Shopping in Walmart

Data Driven Marketing – That said, it may be that the saturation point is approaching, as Potts also talked about the necessity for “Data Driven Marketing” and Lee Peterson of WD Partners talking about digital integration in VMSD Forecast for 2017 pointed out that when surveyed, for 3 years in a row the digital device most wanted by customers was BOPIS, the ability to buy online and pick up in the store. If, it would seem, last year’s omnichannel marketing was about integrating the message into the larger stream, then this year is about flushing out the individual retailers best path to success. A bike shop owner might, in 2016, have been compelled to have a presence in every possible outlet, i.e, blogs, competitions, associations, civic events, publications, website, e-commerce, indeed anything having to do with bikes or bicycling. In 2017 this bike shop owner might look closely at the data accumulated from past marketing activities and then focus on what has worked, even if the answer is unexpected. For example Kathleen Jordan writing for VMSD tells us, ” Retailers must develop new ways to reach their audience and find new sources to expand their consumer base… it must be recognized that online is not always the answer.” Did you notice she called them an audience rather than customers or shoppers.

Microsoft Surface at Hard Rock Cafe, Hollywood

Integrated Shopping Experience – Considering that almost 92 percent of all retail sales are still being transacted in physical environments and further that many online retailers end up with physical stores, I am lead to inquire, what does all this say to those of us involved with the bricks and mortar part of retail, presuming of course that it is not going away? Clearly, creating a shopping experience is still important. Eric Feigenbaum subtitled his article in VMSD, “…Retail’s divining rod no longer moves at p-o-s, but rather at p-o-e – point of experience.”

Prioritize – From my perspective, after many years working in retail design, the answer must be about priorities. The seamless integration of technology is part and parcel of the all important shopping experience and it can only be accomplished by assimilating a clients carefully worked out digital marketing plan into a store design by partnering with the technical experts. The devices of digital marketing are, after all, physical elements and as such work better when addressed in “pre” as apposed to post design.

Virtual Book at “Librovision”

If there is any doubt that this is an often neglected fact, just look around at piles of wire shoved under cabinets, dangling from display cases, hap hazardously placed equipment closets, and my personal favorite, the back side of monitors at POS stations. Certainly newer wireless technologies are available but there are always performance issues to consider, many requiring additional equipment in other areas. Most clients have enough understanding of Building mechanical systems like HVAC and plumbing to expect and allow for their accommodation, but somehow the lexicon of electronic equipment has remained a mystery, not a little, I should add, because it is in a constant state of flux. Ryan Ruud, founder and CEO of Lake One, writing for “Smart Insights” identifies Random Acts Of Technology (RAT) as marketing flops resulting from the application of technology without strategy. I would argue that this applies, as well, to the physical store design whenever non integrated electronics are treated as project add ons – and okay, I liked the buzzword too!

Bring in an Expert – Finally, I would advise any retailer aiming in 2017 for “…effective in-store digital retail experiences” to introduce a suitable technology consultant into the schematic stage of a project and then keep him or her involved up through and even after store opening. Sometimes independent and small retailers assume that these services are beyond their reach. On the contrary, I have found that most electronic designers are also providers and as such their services are often included when they supply and install equipment. It is money well spent, almost – but not quite – as good as that spent on the Architect.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Retail Hiring: Interview Questions

Retail Hiring: Interview Questions Recently, HR expert Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources presented a comprehensive workshop on hiring, geared particularly to small retail businesses. The workshop covered all aspects of hiring, from defining the need and type of employee you wish to hire, through the sourcing of candidates, writing the ad, interview techniques,… Read more »

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Retail Hiring: Interview Questions

Recently, HR expert Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources presented a comprehensive workshop on hiring, geared particularly to small retail businesses. The workshop covered all aspects of hiring, from defining the need and type of employee you wish to hire, through the sourcing of candidates, writing the ad, interview techniques, selection criteria, background checks, offers and orientation for success. You may view the entire annotated PowerPoint hereinterview-blog

An area of particular interest to the attendees at the workshop was the types of questions that an employer can ask in an interview in order to assess the qualifications, skills, interest, and attitude of potential employees. It is always important to ask questions that are relevant to the work and culture of your business. For example, if you are open on nights and weekends it is relevant to ask if the candidate is available to work three nights a week and certain hours on a Saturday. That is relevant to your business and the position you are trying to fill. It also helps to ask behavioral-based questions. A behavioral-based question is designed to let you learn about patterns of behavior the person has demonstrated in past work situations as these are the best predictors of future behavior. So you may need to understand how dependable the person is in coming to work on time and staying a full shift. A question such as “Tell me about your work schedule in recent jobs and how you managed your time to get to work on time and put in a full shift, and how much of an issue that was”. You could then follow up with “When I ask your most recent boss about this, will she tell me about the same information or add more examples?”. For candidates just out of school or otherwise just entering the workforce these responses need not be for prior employment – they can refer to how the candidate has handled an issue in volunteer work, school projects, etc.

Ms. Frame gave the attendees at the workshop a few examples of the types of questions that can be asked and are designed to determine particular qualifications of the applicant (some sample questions can be found in this document). She noted that these are examples – you should design your interview questions specifically to determine whether an applicant meets the combination of skills, ability, commitment and attitude that works for the culture of your business.

It is also important to ask each applicant the same set of questions and to design a report to keep their responses straight. If you interview several candidates in a day it is easy to mix up their responses. If you have a simple form that you complete after each interview it will be easier for you to keep them all straight and find the best new employee for your business. A sample form may be found here.

For additional resources specifically for retail and restaurant small businesses, see the SBDC’s Retail and Restaurant Page

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Signage – Tips for Better Messaging

The City of Alexandria has asked the Alexandria SBDC to provide specialized assistance during the next year to our retail and restaurant small businesses to increase their opportunities for success. You will see several new workshops, videos and online information as we roll out this initiative. Recently, the City of Alexandria distributed new signage guidelines… Read more »

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The City of Alexandria has asked the Alexandria SBDC to provide specialized assistance during the next year to our retail and restaurant small businesses to increase their opportunities for success. You will see several new workshops, videos and online information as we roll out this initiative. Recently, the City of Alexandria distributed new signage guidelines to the retail businesses in Old Town.

To assist Alexandria’s businesses with both signage and marketing in general, the SBDC has created a new section of its website where it will curate information from subject-matter experts on open-sign-1309682_1920issues important to our Retail and Restaurant small business owners. The City’s signage brochure and the first four information pieces have been places in the repository and can be accessed at www.alexandriasbdc.org/retail-restaurant. The first four information pieces were written by Paul Williams of Idea Sandbox.  At the request of the Alexandria SBDC he also prepared a summary of Tips for Better Messaging.  Consider the following tips when developing signage for your business:

  1. Prioritize Your Messages – based on the reader’s perspective. Use headline messaging on your larger signs and smaller details on the close-up signage. Keep Signage Fresh– Replace before it gets worn, curls, lights burn out, photo colors fade, tears, or is out-of-date.
  2. Be Clear About What You Do – If your business name does not make it clear, add an icon (blow dryer, hot dog icon, diamond ring) or a second line of type (blow dry bar, gourmet hot dogs, engagement rings).
  3. Curb Appeal – Signage is only part of your presentation. Don’t neglect your window display, cleanliness of your sidewalk, front door, or building facade. Customers judge your business by its cover.
  4. Less is more! – Too many messages create confusion, not clarity. The goal of exterior signage is to bring people inside. Then, use the inside of your store and your employees to provide additional details when the customer is ready.
  5. Design Professionally – Use the right combination of colors, typefaces, lettering size, and white space for quick and clear communication.  Hire a professional –  it is an investment, not an expense.
  6. Word-of-Mouth Beats Signage– The best, most credible way to drive traffic and sales to your business is by doing the things that will make existing customers so enthusiastic they can’t resist telling others about you.
  7. Show, Don’t Tell – If you can, skip text and instead merchandise your product. A mouth-watering plated sandwich, food photography, or well-assembled outfit is worth 1,000 words.
  8. Have a Big BrandLook – You don’t need big budgets, staff, and research tools of national brands; you simply need to see what they’re doing and apply it to your business.
  9. Perceived Value – If you want customers to spend more money with you, offer a level of customer service and a store experience that makes them feel your prices are worth every dollar – and more.

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Voted One of Americas Finest Optical Retailers

Storefront Store Fixture DesignWE ARE VERY PROUD to announce that eye2eye Optometry Corner, a project that we completed in late 2015, and located in Hilltop Village Center here in Alexandria, has won Honorable Mention in the 2016 America’s Finest Optical Retailers competition put on by Invision Magazine, an important optical industry publication. We wish to extend our thanks to Dora Adamopoulos, OD for bringing such a great project. Likewise thanks to the following team members and all who participated in this project.

BC Engineers Inc.
Mesen Associates Structural Engineers
Independence Construction
Ambiance Lighting
Hermin Ohanian “Artoholic”
Ennco Display Systems
Miller Creative Solutions

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Unburden Local Small Businesses

This post first appeared in the Alexandria Times on May 27, 2016. Frequently during an election year — at both national and local levels — we hear about the need to reduce burdens for small businesses. In many instances, this refers to the regulations and requirements to operate these businesses. Small businesses are acutely aware… Read more »

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This post first appeared in the Alexandria Times on May 27, 2016.

Unburden Small BusinessesFrequently during an election year — at both national and local levels — we hear about the need to reduce burdens for small businesses. In many instances, this refers to the regulations and requirements to operate these businesses. Small businesses are acutely aware of the impact that compliance has on their bottom line.

In every survey of small business owners, regulatory compliance ranks at or near the top of the list of their greatest challenges. While larger corporations have specialized departments to handle such matters, it’s the small business owners who personally must try to understand and respond to these requirements. Doing so takes their focus away from their products, services and competition — the core of their operations.

Red tape and delays have particularly harmful consequences for owners at the very fragile startup stage, when their resources are thin. Entrepreneurs already are juggling many pressing concerns, and they desperately need to get their doors open to begin collecting revenue. Startup delays due to regulatory processes can be expensive, and a weak cash f low at the start may lead to failure down the road.

With elected officials and business owners on the same side of this issue, you might wonder why cutting red tape for small businesses continues to be an issue. Regulatory burdens are convoluted and complex matters — often products of outdated legislation and multiple layers of oversight. They typically were put into place with good intent and without recognition of the unintended consequences for small business owners.

Nearly everybody wants to help small businesses and agrees in theory with reducing their regulatory burden, but when specific revisions are proposed, some residents begin to fear that the floodgates will open and their protections will be eroded.

These regulatory matters are not easy to unhook, and the process of changing them does not happen overnight. But as a community, we should support the modernization of these requirements for small businesses.

Since the recession of 2008, city leadership has been particularly focused on the viability of
the small businesses that comprise such a large portion of our economy. In recent years, permitting processes have been streamlined and clarified, and City Hall has added facilitators to guide businesses through the process. The Alexandria Small Business Development Center also has developed a website checklist to help entrepreneurs better anticipate requirements and possible hurdles ahead.

This year, city staff has undertaken a complex effort to identify zoning ordinances that are costly and time-intensive for small businesses. Staffers are particularly focused on ordinances that seem excessive based on their limited community impact. These changes would also correct disparities that stem from business trends that were not anticipated when the ordinances were originally written. These changes will go a long way to supporting the growth of small business in Alexandria.

To attract successful, creative businesses to Alexandria, all of us — city officials, business leaders and residents — have work to do. We must minimize red tape and make sure every interaction with entrepreneurs is hospitable, respectful and encouraging.

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What do you mean by “Feasibility Assessment?”

Now What?
Now What? How do I turn this in to a new store?

Contemplation – Imagine you are a retailer contemplating this tenant space. Clearly, you might be asking yourself; “now what?” Suppose a few of the questions below move from unconscious reflection to conscious contemplation without ensuing answers, then assessing a project to see what is actually required could facilitate the decision making process and provide many benefits.

Resources – Landlord provided documents, previous project cost summaries, consultations with building departments, contractors, engineers and sometimes professional construction estimators are all resources informing project feasibility. The intent is to simplify, consolidate and summarize the probable scope of work, professional fees, construction costs and time that might be anticipated for a project. It is the purpose of a feasibility assessment and a highly recommended means of beginning most retail projects.

  • Do I need to build the walls?
  • Do I need to build the bathroom(s)
  • Why do I need 2 bathrooms?
  • Why do I need 2 entries?
  • Do I need to install the storefront system?
  • Can I use my own storefront design?
  • Do I need to have my own electric meter installed?
  • Do I need to install my own Air Conditioning and heating system?
  • What is the best mechanical system to use?
  • Is there water in the space?
  • What about hot water?
  • What about gas?
  • Where is the sewer?
  • How do I connect to it?
  • Will my store fit in this space?
  • Must I supply my own storefront sign?
  • Who will design it?
  • Can I design the store myself?
  • Can I turn a logo into a store design?
  • Where do I get the store fixtures?
  • What if I can’t find the exact fixtures that I need to display my products?
  • Are custom store fixtures required, if so who will design them?
  • What about lighting?
  • Who sets up the Point of Sale (POS) system and how do I hide the wires?
  • How do I accommodate the cabling and hard wiring for my computers?
  • How much can I expect to spend for all this?
  • A contractor told me he could build my store for $45/sq. ft. Should I believe him?
  • Do I need a building permit?
  • What does an architect charge?
  • Can I get this done in time to open before I must begin paying rent?
  • How do a pick a contractor?
  • Is the construction allowance from the landlord enough to build the store?
  • Does the location have enough parking?
  • What is the visibility from walk and drive by traffic?
  • Is this space a good choice for my project?
  • If I don’t take this space do I need to start all over with a new feasibility for a different location?

Please feel free start a discussion here and maybe even see some answers.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Dealing with Challenging Customers

The April Small Business Roundtable featured a lively discussion on how to deal with challenging customers. Whether it is a one-time issue or a constant complainer, all agreed that this is one of the most difficult issues of being a small business owner. Usually, you do not want to lose them as customers, but someone… Read more »

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Dealing with Challenging CustomersThe April Small Business Roundtable featured a lively discussion on how to deal with challenging customers. Whether it is a one-time issue or a constant complainer, all agreed that this is one of the most difficult issues of being a small business owner.

Usually, you do not want to lose them as customers, but someone who is dissatisfied can potentially hurt your reputation and consume so much time and energy that it affects your will to be in business. It can also pit employees against each other and destroy the potential for customer referrals, the backbone of many small businesses. After all, the satisfied customer is less likely to praise you on social media than the unhappy customer is to complain.

If you, your company, or one of your employees does something to bring on the customers annoyance, of course you apologize and take steps to make it right. However, what if the dissatisfaction is not so reasonable? The most important step to prevent frustration on your part or that of your customers is to properly set expectations. Make sure that your clients know what you do, what your processes are, and what the customers can expect from your company.

This may take some education on your part. Are things clearly spelled out on your website or other means of communicating with your customers? Don’t hide anything in the “fine print” and expect customers to find it. Be up front with what products and services you provide and what the customer is supposed to do to receive those goods or services. Some of the simple rules of civility apply – treat others as you wish to be treated, and listen to what the customer is saying. Sometimes, a customer will complain about perfectly fine service just to try to get a lower price – this is rare, but those folks can be dealt with calmly by explaining the situation.

The first thing to do when faced with a customer complaint is to find out what the customer wants – what were their expectations? Make sure to treat the customer with respect and try not to be defensive – graciousness can often de-escalate a touchy situation. Make sure that your employees are trained in what to do with an unsatisfied customer, and empower them to solve many of the problems themselves (perhaps up to a certain dollar amount).

Sometimes an unhappy customer just wants to vent – all that you have to do is listen and let them know that you hear what they are saying. You can sympathize with a situation without giving in by simply saying that you are sorry that they feel that way. If you can solve their issue and maintain a valuable relationship, do so as quickly as possible. If it will take some time, let them know the process and keep them in the loop so that they know that you value them as a customer. This assumes that you can reasonably recompense them for their trouble, and that it is important for your business to do so.

If you reach an impasse and it appears that there is nothing that you can reasonably do to satisfy that client, it may be necessary to let them go. You can do so by remaining calm and letting them know that you realize this is not working out and you may be able to refer them elsewhere. No one wants to “fire” a client, but sometimes that is the best option and it helps to have an exit strategy ready. For major issues that involve a significant payment it may be best to involve a third-party mediator to review the situation.

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